FILE - PA Patrick McDonnell

Patrick McDonnell, secretary of the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection, testifies Sept. 19, 2019, before the House Environmental Resources and Energy Committee.

Pennsylvania’s move toward membership in the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative has drawn both criticism and support since Gov. Tom Wolf announced the state would join the initiative next year.

The RGGI uses a cap and trade program to regulate carbon emissions from electric power plants. The states set a cap on the emissions and plant officials must purchase a credit for each ton of carbon emissions it produces. Nine states are currently a part of the RGGI with New Jersey scheduled to rejoin next year and Virginia also becoming a member.

Wolf’s executive order requires the Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) to present a plan by July 31 of next year. The public will be allowed to comment.

DEP Secretary Patrick McDonnell said about 82 percent of greenhouse gas emissions are from transportation, industry and electricity. Electric plants led the pack until recently, when industry took the lead for the most emissions.

“Carbon emissions are having a catastrophic impact on public health and climate,” McDonnell told the House Democratic Police Committee recently.

The RGGI has reduced CO2 pollution by 45 percent, according to McDonnell.

In a report by analyst Tirzah Duren, however, the nonprofit Commonwealth Foundation rejected claims that the RGGI sparked a reduction in CO2 pollution and said that the increased use of natural gas was the reason. And electricity prices have not declined but have increased 64 percent faster, Duren said.

“Recent reduction in emissions and clean energy production shows that Pennsylvania can fulfill the goals of RGGI without having to suffer dramatically increased energy costs under its burdensome cap-and-trade policy,” Duren wrote.

In testimony in late October before the House Energy and Environmental Resources Committee, the foundation's Gordon Tomb, citing the work of David Stevenson, director of the Center for Energy Competitiveness at the Caesar Rodney Institute, argued that joining RGGI would have a host of negative effects.

"What RGGI has produced for its member states is what we think Pennsylvania can expect to get from the governor’s proposal," Tomb said. "And it’s not good. According to the Stevenson research, RGGI has resulted in higher energy costs, reduced industrial activity and no environmental benefits. In short, RGGI has hurt its region."

Former DEP Commissioner John Hanger said Pennsylvania’s climate is warming one-degree Fahrenheit each decade, which is a “calamitous rate of warming which is causing massive economic damages from longer, more intensive, more frequent heat waves, flooding, diseases brought by mosquitos and other vectors and other climate disruptions and disasters.”

He blamed part of it on plants using “the atmosphere as a free dump to get rid of their carbon pollution” in a presentation to the House Democratic Policy Committee.

“The failure to make coal and natural gas plants to pay something, anything, for their massive cost of their carbon pollution is an enormous subsidy to the coal and gas plants,” Hanger said.